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Second City hits Washington Hall

Declan Sullivan | Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If you think Mom and Dad are ready for a night of gut-busting laughter, Washington Hall will be bursting at the seams with top-notch comedy when the Student Union Board hosts The Second City this Friday night.

The Second City comedy troupe is a legendary ensemble based primarily in the Windy City. The group began in the 1950s in Chicago, when several University of Chicago students interested in comedy and theater first created their own brand of improvisational comedy. Throughout the group’s more than five decades of history, it has released multiple comedic recordings, produced films, traveled on national tours and performed for sold-out audiences. The troupe has expanded to several cities since its inception, including Los Angeles. However, its primary and best-known groups remain in Chicago and Toronto.

The format of a typical Second City show has remained constant since the 1950s. The first half of the program consists of scripted and half-improvised scenes, while the second showcases fully improvised scenes based on audience suggestions – think “Whose Line is it Anyway?” Another staple of the Second City formula is live, improvised music that accompanies the sketches.

The Toronto-based group has its own distinguished history. It eventually expanded to a sketch-comedy show called “SCTV” (“Second City Television”) that was broadcast in Canada from 1976-1984. The program went on to win several awards for broadcasting, while also launching the careers of such actors as Harold Ramis, Gilda Radner and John Candy.

Second City gained national renown as a kind of training ground for many of the initial and subsequent cast members of “Saturday Night Live.” Among the slew of high-profile alumni of Second City, including both the Toronto and Chicago ensembles, to reach the stage of “SNL” are the Belushi brothers, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, Tina Fey and Chris Farley.

The Second City’s strengths lie in more than simply its actors and writers, however. The group also has inspired much of the writing and directorial talent that has produced some of Hollywood’s great comedies of the past forty years. Examples include “Animal House,” “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters,” “Groundhog Day” and “Anchorman.” Toss in the voice of Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta), a few Academy Award and Emmy-winning actors, and the stars of two of the most highly rated shows on television today – Steve Carrell, from “The Office,” and Stephen Colbert, from “The Colbert Report” – and the reputation is definitively well earned.

The Second City Touring Company will be performing two shows in Washington Hall on Friday, at 6:30 and 9:30. The show is a special engagement for students and their parents visiting during Junior Parents Weekend. Tickets cost $7 dollars for students and $10 dollars for the general public, and are available at the LaFortune Box office. With the pedigree behind the Second City, tickets are sure to sell quickly.